Moorland vegetation responses following prescribed burning on blanket peat
Moorlands provide several key ecosystem services, as well as supporting shooting of red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica Latham). Prescribed burning of heather is an integral aspect of grouse-moor management but is sometimes presented as ecologically damaging. However, a long-term burning experiment at Moor House National Nature Reserve, North Pennines, northern England, showed that more frequent burning actually increased the cover of peat-building species such as Sphagnum mosses and cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum L.). Here we compare those findings with data from another deep-peat site in the North Pennines, but one that is actively managed as a grouse moor. We describe post-fire vegetation change using aerial images to construct a time-series of burns. Comparable with the Moor House study, we found highest levels of Sphagnum and Eriophorum cover on fires last burned within 3-10 years, whereas heather (Calluna vulgaris L.) cover, that of other mosses, and overall vegetation height all increased in a linear manner over time since burning. These results from an actively managed grouse moor subject to prescribed burning demonstrate that the cover and species richness of Sphagnum, a key peat-forming group, correlated with reduced dominance of tall heather, can benefit from a post-burn period of up to 10 years.